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Review: ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ by Peter Lovesey

Down Among the Dead Men

By Peter Lovesey

Soho Crime

374 pages. $27.95

By Janice Okun

You won’t find a brilliant crazy computer wizard plotting to take over the world in this book.

Nor will you find mean streets where weary, flawed cops attempt to put a stop to urban crime.

This is the kind of clever, densely packed puzzle we don’t see much of these days and it’s neatly plotted by the award-winning master of the British police procedural, Peter Lovesey. It’s Lovesey’s 15th book about all-too-human Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond, normally based in the charming town of Bath.

Not this time, though. Here, Diamond is not overly pleased to find himself two hours away from home in a picturesque Sussex town, accompanied by his – shall we say difficult – supervisor Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore. They are pursuing an internal affairs investigation of a 7-year-old cold crime.

The man accused of a murder has been protesting his innocence while sitting in prison for all that time. Suddenly, an anonymous letter suggests that he indeed may have been unjustly accused.

It’s a very British and, in some ways, gentle story, but if you’re starting to think you’re going to get all cozy with a plot line that involves a country church, an eccentric vicar and little old ladies who wear fancy hats and drink a lot of tea, forget it.

It’s engrossing, well-written and original. Not to mention the book includes a deftly drawn pack of characters, including a bunch of young female art students in a fancy school who discover their teacher has gone missing.

They never really cared for this teacher all that much, you understand, but still…

Turns out that people have been mysteriously disappearing from Sussex for years.

Peter Diamond himself is definitely not fancy, but he’s no clod either. And he’s smart. He may hold an unpleasant thought about his fellow man from time to time, but he’s got a heart, even when it comes to the ever-present Georgina. He tries to protect her feelings about an old beau who’s responsible for the pair getting dispatched to Sussex in the first place. (The beau happens to outrank her.)

And Diamond is funny. Often in a snarky, subtle way that you have to read carefully to catch. Occasionally, though, the humor gets a little broader just to vary the pace.

Georgina, for instance, drives him mad. A very correct police officer (Diamond must call her “ma’am” in public) who travels with too much pink luggage, knows her way around a yacht and obsesses about food, she’s a character worth knowing.

A sample of an off-duty Georgina/Diamond conversation:

“ ‘I had a wonderful meal,’ she tells him.

“He hoped she would leave it at that.

“She didn’t. ‘New season turbot and spring vegetables followed by baked Alaska which comes in a dish for two.’

“He thought for the first time that it was possible the Double Whopper burger he’d eaten may have had something to do with his sleepless night.

“But Georgina hadn’t finished. ‘Archie had the dressed Cornish crab and said it was excellent. Oh, and I forgot the starter. We both had the Burgundian snails. I don’t suppose you’re a snail person, but with the garlic herb butter they’re as good a mouthful as you could wish. Do you eat snails, Peter?’

“‘Can we talk about what we’re doing today?’ ”

Even if it didn’t make you grin from time to time, though, the book is so full of surprises. Here’s betting that you will be taken aback at its ending.

Read, think and have fun.

Janice Okun is The News’ former Food Editor as well as a lifelong devotee of crime fiction.